Produced by Communications and Marketing, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences,
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 2009
Virginia Cooperative Extension programs and employment are open to all, regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, religion,
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Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University,
and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Rick D. Rudd, Interim Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia
Tech, Blacksburg; Alma C. Hobbs, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State, Petersburg.
Propagation by Cuttings, Layering and Division
Diane Relf, Extension Specialist, Environmental Horticulture, Virginia Tech
Elizabeth Ball, Program Support Technician, Virginia Tech
Asexual propagation is the best way to maintain some
species, particularly an individual that best represents
that species. Clones are groups of plants that are identi-
cal to their one parent and that can only be propagated
asexually. The Bartlett pear (1770) and the Delicious
apple (1870) are two examples of clones that have been
asexually propagated for many years.
The major methods of asexual propagation are cut-
tings, layering, division, and budding/grafting. Cut-
tings involve rooting a severed piece of the parent
plant; layering involves rooting a part of the parent and
then severing it; and budding and grafting are joining
two plant parts from different varieties.
The potting soil, or medium in which a plant grows,
must be of good quality. It should be porous for root
aeration and drainage, but also capable of water and
nutrient retention. In order for a plant to form a new
root system, it must have a ready moisture supply at the
cut surface. Oxygen, of course, is required for all liv-
ing cells. The coarse-textured media choices often meet
these requirements. Most commercially prepared mixes
are termed artificial, which means they contain no soil.
The basic ingredients of such a mix are sphagnum peat
moss and vermiculite, both of which are generally free
of diseases, weed seeds, and insects.
Rooting media for asexual propagation should be clean
and sterile. Cuttings are not susceptible to damping-off,
but they are attacked by other fungi and bacteria which
may come along in the medium. Most commercially
prepared media are clean when purchased.
The media should be low in fertilizer. Excessive fertility
will damage or inhibit new roots. High-quality artificial
mixes sometimes contain slow-release fertilizers.
Coarse perlite alone can be used to start some cuttings.
This doesn’t hold much water for long, but it is fine
for rooting cuttings of cactus-type plants which would
ordinarily rot in higher moisture media. Coarse ver-
miculite alone has excellent water-holding capacity
and aeration, but may dry out rapidly via evaporation if
not covered in some way. A mix of 50% peat moss and
50% perlite favors good aeration. An equal mix of peat
moss, vermiculite, and perlite is also good and favors
Plain water can be used to propagate some cuttings.This
is possible and actually works quite well for some spe-
cies which root easily. It certainly provides the needed
moisture, but if the water is not changed on a weekly
basis, it will become stagnant, oxygen deficient, and
inhibitory to rooting. Furthermore, roots produced in
100% water are different from those produced in solid
media; they may undergo greater transplant shock with
a greater incidence of death. So, it is not the most desir-
able methodfor most plants, but certainly feasible.
Rooting Enhancement Conditions
Once you’ve selected the right medium, your first
priority is to get roots produced as quickly as possi-
ble. The consequences of slow rooting may be death
because the cutting must rely on its limited water
reserves. Water is required for major chemical reac-
tions in plants which will be shut down in its absence.
Even though the exposed cells on the cut surface of the
cutting ordinarily transport water throughout the plant,
they are not equipped to adequately absorb it from the
medium. This can only be done in most plants by roots,
and particularly root hairs. Root hairs are tiny, single
cell projections from the root ends or tips.
Make sure the medium is moist prior to inserting cut-
tings. If incompletely moist, then the cut surface may
contact a dry pocket and have its own water absorbed
away by the medium component. Try to keep both the
air and medium temperature warm: 70-75O
temperatures enhance growth, but excessively high
temperatures do not allow for photosynthesis to keep
up with food breakdown in normal cell energy use
(respiration). You can buy electric heating pads to put
beneath containers holding cuttings to maintain a con-
Get air circulation around the cuttings as much as pos-
sible to discourage fungal growth. Place in bright, but
not direct light. An east window is fine but a west win-
dow is too warm and a south facing window too bright.
North is too dim.
One way to provide good environmental conditions for
asexual propagation by cuttings is through the use of a
mist bed. This system sprays a fine mist of water over
the cuttings once every few minutes, and the time is
adjustable. It should only be on during the day, as night-
time operation would keep the medium too wet and
encourage rotting. Misting inhibits transpiration and
forces the plant to conserve water while it forms new
roots. If a mist system is unavailable, one can be imi-
tated in a small propagation tray in the home. Choose
an appropriate medium, moisten it, and place it in a
tray. Place the tray in a perforated or slitted clear plastic
bag. This increases the relative humidity and inhibits
water loss by the plant and medium, yet allows air cir-
culation. Tug gently at the cuttings after 2-3 weeks to
test for rooting and transplant to individual pots when
roots resist your tugs. Dig them out, do not pull them
out! Different plants require different rooting times, so
do not expect them all to root at the same time.
Many types of plants, both woody and herbaceous,
are frequently propagated by cuttings. A cutting is a
vegetative plant part which is severed from the parent
plant in order to regenerate itself, thereby forming a
whole new plant. Take cuttings with a sharp blade to
reduce injury to the parent plant. Dip the cutting tool
in rubbing alcohol or a mixture of one part bleach to
nine parts water to prevent transmitting diseases from
infected plant parts to healthy ones. Remove flowers
and flower buds to allow the cutting to use its energy
and stored carbohydrates for root and shoot forma-
tion rather than fruit and seed production. With large-
leaved cuttings (i.e., Rhododendron) and limited space
in the propagation container, trimming up to half the
leaf length can improve efficiency, as well as light and
air circulation for all the cuttings. To hasten rooting,
increase the number of roots, or to obtain uniform root-
ing (except on soft, fleshy stems), use a rooting hor-
mone, preferably one containing a fungicide. Prevent
possible contamination of the entire supply of rooting
hormone by putting some hormone in a separate con-
tainer for dipping cuttings. Discard this hormone after
all the cuttings are treated.
Place stem and leaf cuttings in bright, indirect light.
Root cuttings can be kept in the dark until new shoots
Numerous plant species are propagated by stem cut-
tings. Most can be taken throughout summer and fall,
but stem cuttings of some woody plants root better if
taken in the fall or in the dormant season. Success with
herbaceous plants is generally enhanced when done in
the spring; these plants are actively growing then, and
more apt to root quickly on their own. There are several
different types of stem cuttings depending on the part
of the stem needed. At least one node (the point on a
stem where leaves are attached and buds form) should
be below the media surface. Although some plants root
at internodes (the space between nodes), others only
root at nodal tissue.
Detach a 2- to 6-inch piece of stem, including the termi-
nal bud. Make the cut just below a node. Remove lower
leaves that would touch or be below the medium. Dip the
stem in rooting hormone if desired. Gently tap the end
of the cutting to remove excess hormone. Make a hole
in the medium with a pencil or pot label, and insert the
cutting deeply enough into the media to support itself.
Medial cuttings (also stem-section cuttings)
Make the first cut just above a node, and the second cut
just below a node 2 to 6 inches down the stem. Prepare
and insert the cutting as you would a tip cutting. Be sure
to position right side up. Buds are always above leaves.
Make sure the cut-
ting is inserted base
Cut cane-like stems into sections contain-
ing one or two eyes, or nodes. Dust ends
with fungicide or activated charcoal.
Allow to dry several hours. Lay horizontally with about
half of the cutting below the media surface, eye facing
upward. Cane cuttings are usually potted when roots and
new shoots appear, but new shoots from dracaena and
croton are often cut off and rerooted in sand.
The eye refers to the bud which emerges
at the axil of the leaf at each node. This
is used for plants with alternate leaves
when space or stock material are limited.
Cut the stem about 1
inch above and 1
inch below a
node. Place the cutting horizontally or vertically in the
medium with the node just touching the surface.
This is used for plants with opposite
leaves when space or stock material is
limited. Cut the stem about _ inch above
and _ inch below the same node. Insert
the cutting vertically in the medium with the node just
touching the surface.
This method uses stock mate-
rial with woody stems effi-
ciently. Make a shield-shaped
cut about halfway through the
wood around a leaf and axial bud. Insert the shield hori-
zontally into the medium so that it is completely cov-
ered. Remove any leaf blade but keep a portion of the
petiole intact for ease in handling this small cutting.
Leaf cuttings are used almost exclusively for a few
indoor plants. Leaves of most plants will either produce
a few roots but no plant, or just decay.
Whole leaf with petiole
Detach the leaf and up to
1 _ inches of petiole. Insert
the lower end of the petiole into
the medium. One or more new plants will form at
the base of the petiole. The leaf may be severed from
the new plants when they have their own roots, and the
petiole can be reused. (Example: African violet).
Whole leaf without petiole
This is used for plants with ses-
sile leaves (no stalk or petiole).
Insert the cutting vertically into the medium. A new
plant will form from the axillary bud. The leaf may be
removed when the new plant has its own roots. (Exam-
ple: donkey’s tail).
Detach a leaf from the stock plant.
Slit its veins on the lower leaf sur-
face. Lay the cutting, lower side
Cuttings: Stem Leaf Root
Tip- used for almost all Whole Leaf with Petiolegloxinia, Large- horse radish
house plants except those African violet, peperomia,
that don’t form stems such begonia Small- bleeding heart,
as African violet, and those geraniums, ming aralia
with rigid stems such as Without Petiole- donkey’s tail,
dieffenbachia jade, ghost plant, peperomia
Medial- same as tip
Cane- dieffenbachia, swiss Split Vein- begonia
cheese plant, aglaonema
Single Eye- alternate leaf Leaf Sections- sansevieria,
plants such as Devil’s ivy begonia
Double Eye- opposite leaf
plants such as coleus
down, on the medium. New plants will form at each
cut. If the leaf tends to curl up, hold it in place by cov-
ering the margins with the rooting medium. (Example:
This method is frequently used
with snake plant and fibrous rooted
begonias. Cut begonia leaves into
wedges with at least one vein. Lay leaves flat on the
medium. A new plant will arise at the vein. Cut snake
plant leaves into 2-inch sections. Consistently make
the lower cut slanted and the upper cut straight so you
can tell which is the top. Insert the cutting vertically.
Roots will form fairly soon, and eventually a new plant
will appear at the base of the cutting. These and other
succulent cuttings will rot if
kept too moist. (Note
that with varie-
gated snake plant,
the new shoot will
develop from cells
that do not display
t h e variegation.)
Root cuttings are usually taken from
2- to 3-year-old plants during their dor-
mant season when they have a large
carbohydrate supply. Root cuttings
of some species produce new shoots,
which then form their own root systems, while root
cuttings of other plants develop root systems before
producing new shoots.
Plants with large roots: Make a straight top cut. Make a
slanted cut 2 to 6 inches below the first cut. Store about
3 weeks in moist sawdust, peat moss, or sand at 40˚F.
Remove from storage. Insert the cutting vertically with
the top approximately level with the surface of the
rooting medium. This method is often used outdoors.
(Example: horse radish).
Plants with small roots
Take 1- to 2-inch sections of roots. Insert the cuttings
horizontally about 1
inch below the medium surface.
This method is usu-
ally used indoors or in
a hotbed. (Example:
Stems still attached to their parent plants may form roots
where they touch a rooting medium. Severed from the
parent plant, the rooted stem becomes a new plant. This
method of vegetative propagation, called layering, pro-
motes a high success rate because it prevents the water
stress and carbohydrate shortage that plague cuttings.
Some plants layer themselves naturally, but sometimes
plant propagators assist the process. Layering may be
enhanced by wounding one side of the stem or by bend-
ing it very sharply. The rooting medium should always
provide aeration and a constant supply of moisture.
Dig a hole 3 to 4 inches deep.
Insert the shoot tip and cover
it with soil. The tip grows
downward first, then bends
sharply and grows upward.
Roots form at the bend, and the recurved tip becomes a
new plant. Remove the tip layer and plant it in the early
spring or late fall. Examples: purple and black raspber-
ries, trailing blackberries.
Bend the stem to the ground.
Cover part of it with soil,
leaving the last 6 to 12 inches
exposed. Bend the tip into a
vertical position and stake in place. The sharp bend will
often induce rooting, but wounding the lower side of
the branch or loosening the bark by twisting the stem
may help. Examples: forsythia, honeysuckle.
works for plants
with flexible stems. Bend the stem to the rooting
medium as for simple layering, but alternately cover
and expose stem sections. Wound the lower side of
the stem sections to be covered. Examples: heart-leaf
Mound (stool) layering
Cut the plant back to 1 inch
above the ground in the dor-
mant season. Mound soil over
the emerging shoots in the spring to enhance their root-
ing. Examples: gooseberries, apple rootstocks.
Air layering is used to propagate some indoor plants
with thick stems, or to rejuvenate them when they
become leggy. Slit the stem just below a node. Pry the
slit open with a toothpick. Surround the wound with wet
unmilled sphagnum moss. Wrap plastic or foil around
the sphagnum moss and tie in place. When roots per-
vade the moss, cut the plant off below the root ball.
Plants to Propagate
Tip purple and black raspberries, trail-
Simple forsythia, honeysuckle, spider
plant, most vine-type plants
(philodendron, grape ivy, devil’s
ivy, swedish ivy, etc.)
Compound heartleaf philodendron, pothos
Mound gooseberries, apple rootstocks
Air Layering plants with rigid stems such as
dieffenbachia, ficus, rubber plant,
Propagation from the following plant parts can be con-
sidered a modification of layering, as the new plants
form before they are detached from their parent plants.
Stolons and runners
A stolon is a horizontal, often fleshy stem that can root,
then produce new shoots where it touches the medium.
A runner is a slender stem
that originates in a leaf
axil and grows along the
ground or downward from
a hanging basket, produc-
ing a new plant at its tip.
Plants that produce sto-
lons or runners are propagated by severing the new
plants from their parent stems. Plantlets at the tips of
runners may be rooted while still attached to the parent,
or detached and placed in a rooting medium. Examples:
strawberry, spider plant.
Plants with a rosetted stem often
reproduce by forming new shoots
at their base or in leaf axils. Sever
the new shoots from the parent
plant after they have developed
their own root system. Unrooted
offsets of some species may be removed and placed in
a rooting medium. Some of these must be cut off, while
others may be simply lifted off the parent stem. Exam-
ples: date palm, haworthia, bromeliads, many cacti.
Separation is a term applied to a form of propagation
by which plants that produce bulbs or corms multiply.
New bulbs form beside the
originally planted bulb. Sepa-
rate these bulb clumps every 3
to 5 years for largest blooms and
to increase bulb population. Dig
up the clump after the leaves have
withered. Gently pull the bulbs apart and replant them
immediately so their roots can begin to develop. Small,
new bulbs may not flower for 2 or 3 years, but large
ones should bloom the first year. Examples: tulip,
A large new corm forms on top of
the old corm, and tiny cormels form
around the large corm. After the
leaves wither, dig up the corms and allow them to dry
in indirect light for 2 or 3 weeks. Remove the cormels,
then gently separate the new corm from the old corm.
Dust all new corms with a fungicide and store in a
cool place until planting time. Examples: crocus,
Plants with more than one rooted crown may be divided
and the crowns planted separately. If the stems are not
joined, gently pull the plants apart. If the crowns are
united by horizontal stems, cut the stems and roots with
a sharp knife to minimize injury. Divisions of some
outdoor plants should be dusted with a fungicide before
they are replanted. Examples: snake plant, iris, prayer
plant, day lilies.
new season of growth, or in the fall so they can become
established before the ground freezes. Stagger plant
divisions so the whole garden will not be redone at the
same time; good rotation will yield a display of flow-
ers each year. Do not put all the divisions back into
the same space that contained the original plant. That
would place too many plants in a given area. Give extra
plants to friends, plant them elsewhere in the yard, or
Stolons/Runners strawberry, begonia, spider
Offsets date palm, haworthia, bromeli-
ads, cacti, and succulents,
Bulb tulip, narcissus, hyacinth,
Corm crocus, gladiolus, freesia
Crowns sansevieria, iris, prayer plant,
day lilies, boston fern, cast iron
plant, peace lily
Asexual Propagation of Perennials
Most perennials left in the same place for more than 3
years are likely to be overgrown, overcrowded, have
dead or unsightly centers, and need basic fertilizer and
soil amendments. The center of the clump will grow
poorly, if at all, and the flowers will be sparse. The
clump will deplete the fertility of the soil as the plant
crowds itself. To divide mature clumps of perennials,
select only vigorous side shoots from the outer part
of the clump. Discard the center of the clump. Divide
the plant into clumps of three to five shoots each. Be
careful not to over-divide; too small a clump will not
give much color the first year after replanting. Divide
perennials when the plants are dormant just before a
Reviewed by Suzanne Piovano, laboratory specialist, Horticulture
Many plants can be propagated from either tip or root
cuttings. Generally, tip cuttings are easier to propagate
than root cuttings. Select second growth of dianthus,
candytuft, and phlox for cuttings. Make tip cuttings 3
to 6 inches long. Treat the base of the cutting with a
root stimulant. Leave all foliage on the cutting except
the part that will be below the soil line. Insert one cut-
ting per peat pot. Place peat pots of tip cuttings in a
lightly shaded place. Cover with a sheet of clear plastic.
Check regularly to make sure the cuttings do not dry
out. When cuttings do not pull easily out of the soil,
they have begun to root. Make holes in the plastic sheet
to increase the exposure of the cuttings to the air. This
will harden the cuttings. Every few days, enlarge the
holes or make new ones.
Make root cuttings of phlox, baby’s breath, and ori-
ental poppy. Dig the plants in late summer after they
have bloomed. Select pencil-sized roots; cut them into
4-inch sections. Put each piece in a peat pot. Prepare a
tray of peat pots as for seeds, except the soil mix should
be 2 parts sand, 1 part soil, and 1 part peat moss. Water
Reviewed by Roger Harris, Virginia Tech Department of Horticul-
ture; Alan McDaniel, Virginia Tech Department of Horticulture;
and John Arbogast, Extension Agent, Roanoke, Virginia.